This Tuesday, I spoke to an advanced fiction writing class at my alma mater—Emerson College. Whenever I speak to a group—especially a group of writers—I feel like I’m babbling and spouting platitudes about not giving up on your writing and sticking with it and blah blah blah. I also fear that some things I share are so specific to me and my weirdness that it could never be of any use to anyone else. And most of all I fear that sharing my trials and tribulations—having to discard, say, 50, 100, 200 pages, or even an entire draft of a novel—won’t give them the “hang in there even when things totally suck” mentality that I was aiming for but instead make them think, “oh my god, writing is a horrible thing to do to yourself.”
So anyhow, this experience leads me (finally) to a more concrete piece of advice: let’s call it The Desperation Document.
I think that I experience at least one (likely more than one) moment of crisis during the writing of a book. And I don’t mean crisis as in characters grappling with difficult issues in an exciting manner upon the page—I mean an internal, writerly crisis, the kind that ends with me standing in the kitchen and eating ice cream directly out of the container, or just in general whining and feeling like all is lost and acting like a big pain in the ass. I had these moments with The Blood Confession and with my new book, The King’s Rose, which should be released next year (more details on this later, I promise!). It’s a moment where I start to think: I’m failing this story. It’s a good idea, in theory, and I am completely messing it up. (Insert curse words here.)
So this is where The Desperation Document comes in. I sit down with a completely blank piece of paper and write at the top of it: “What is it about this idea that I like?” Then I write down the stuff I like about the story, the character, the things that had inspired me in the first place and the things that make me still want to write about her. I wrote phrases like: “I want to know what this character was thinking when she did what she did. I want to figure out her own (potentially twisted/confused) logic that led her to these decisions. I don’t agree with her, but her actions fascinate me and I want to find out the reason for them, and I want it to be a good, compelling reason…”
The document itself certainly wasn’t pretty and didn’t answer all of my questions, but it helped clarify my desire to continue working on a given project and renewed my faith in the idea, if not in the way I had chosen to tell the story thus far. I’ve found this can also open up reasons why I DON’T believe in a project, and uncover stumbling blocks that I’ve managed to neatly ignore. If one story doesn’t work at a given time, move on and try something else. All is Progress. Mind you, the thought of “progress” consisting of putting aside a draft that has already sucked a great deal of time out of my life is not something I take lightly, but in my heart of hearts I know it to be true. I’ll move on to something else, and eventually I’ll stumble on to a story that I will be completely inspired and utterly compelled to write. And nothing—not even my own mistakes, my own ineptitude—will be able to stop me from doing so.
One can only hope🙂